Building for consumer web? Tap into an existing user need.

Since I’ve been building for consumer web, it has been interesting to study past products and piece together characteristics of successful products. To date, I’ve written on simplicity and unboundedness in consumer products.

A third common characteristic is that they fulfill existing user needs. This may seem obvious, but isn’t always an easy thing to realize; especially for an ex-academic who likes to think up of novel things.

I spent the first 12-13 months of entrepreneurship trying to figure out how to get people to spend more time thinking about their life purpose, goals, and values. This sounds like an awesome mission, but there is a huge problem here. At the end of the day, reflecting on one’s life purpose, goals, and values isn’t a common user behavior. It isn’t something people need during their day. Thus, building a product for this user behavior was always an uphill battle.

In consumer web, it is best to plug straight into an existing user need. Novelty is OK, but in many cases, it is unnecessary. You want a simple solution that solves the user’s problem and then gets out of the way.

Here are a few behaviors, and startups that address them:

  • Need for information: Google, Bing, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Yelp
  • Need for connection: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat
  • Need for expression: Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, Instagram
  • Need to collecting things: Pinterest (could be information too)
  • Need for entertainment: Youtube, Pandora
  • Need to purchase/sell: Amazon, eBay, Craigslist

Most of the large consumer sites tap right into an existing user need. These are all needs that many people have on a daily basis. In fact, we will pay for them. We will pay for access to information, better ways to communicate/connect, tools for expression, etc. The best products tap into this existing need, and make it easier for the user to satisfy their need.

If you are building a consumer web product, ask yourself:

  1. What specific need am I solving for the user?
  2. How important is this need?

You need to be honest with yourself with both of them, but especially question #2. I made the mistake by answering question #2 with how important I thought the need was. The user doesn’t care how important I think it is. They only care about how important they think it is. Big difference.

(Photo credit: Mark Probst/flickr)

P.S. This is post number #53 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Or, check out my current project: Soulmix.

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